Surprise! A Strong Faith Lessens the Fear of Hell

By Mark A. Kellner

There is an endless number of stereotypes in culture—including within political circles—about people of faith, especially those who believe the Bible’s message. Christians are merely hidebound traditionalists, unwilling to adapt their morality to the present day. They go around judging everyone, seeking to impose their worldview on others. And Christians are doing all this, and more, because each one of them is desperately afraid of making one slip that’ll have us roasting in hellfire for all eternity.

However, a just-published study at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, challenges that last assertion. While the judgment of the wicked is no laughing matter, the fear of hell is not the reason most people of faith believe and act as they do.

Writing in the academic journal Mental Health, Religion & Culture, scholars Stephen Cranney, Joseph Leman, Thomas A. Fergus, and Wade C. Rowatt say they developed a “Hell Anxiety Index” to measure the mental-health implications of a belief in hell and the fear of punishment in its flames.

“Surprisingly, Hell anxiety was not related to dogmatism, religious fundamentalism, or overall religiosity, but primarily hinged on self-rated probability of going to Hell and belief in free will,” the authors state in a summary of their research.

In addition, the anxiety index indicated concerns about hell had a “very low correlation with the fear and anxiety subscales for neuroticism,” they said. This would suggest “Hell anxiety … is perhaps a rational response to personal theological premises” and due to overall tendencies toward anxiety or neurosis.

And, they concluded, “fear of Hell has strong relations with negative religious coping and death anxiety.” In other words, if you were raised in a fearful environment, you could learn to fear death and hell.


Is Hell Eternal?



More Faith, Less Fear

Longtime religion news reporter David Briggs, blogging at the Association of Religious Data Archives website, summarized the larger study this way: “The more religious an individual was, the less likely they were to display Hell anxiety. Unhealthy fears were not related to dogmatism or religious fundamentalism. [And,] free will, or the idea individuals have control over where they will spend their afterlife, was a key element in reducing Hell anxiety.”

Did you catch that first point? The more religious a person was, the less likely they were to be anxious about hell. That goes against the perception that so many people have.

Of course, those who are familiar with the actual impact of faith in a person’s life have known this all along. One of the great joys of finding a real relationship with Jesus Christ is knowing that we have an ally who is encouraging us in our spiritual journey. The words “fear not” or “do not be afraid” appear dozens of times in Scripture and are one of Jesus’ most-repeated exhortations to His disciples and, by extension, to us today.

This injunction to not fear is one of the reasons those who have faith often have a more positive outlook on life. A 2017 study at the University of Toronto said a belief in “a supportive higher power” creates an atmosphere of belief in “divine support [that] helps to explain a positive association between religious involvement and self-esteem.”

When the disciple Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, he asked the Savior to “command me to come to You on the water” as proof (Matthew 14:28). When Jesus granted his request, Peter stepped out of the boat and walked toward Him. It was only when Peter took his eyes off Jesus that the disciple began to sink and cry out for help, which Jesus gave.

One point of this account is for believers to keep “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith,” as we read in Hebrews 12:2. The motivation to “keep on keeping on” isn’t fear of punishment, but the encouragement of our Lord, who has gone ahead to prepare a place for us and wants to welcome every believer home.

An Angry God?

Jonathan EdwardsUnfortunately, not every believer—or preacher—has expounded this as clearly as they might have done.

In 1741, Jonathan Edwards, a preacher in colonial America whose words had great influence, discoursed on the subject of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” This was no feel-good sermon. Edwards thundered,

“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince, and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.”

While it is true that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), it’s also true that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Once you believe, you are no longer “in the hands of an angry God,” but rather under the wings of a loving Savior. We all sin, but if and when we do, “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

Would you like to have renewed confidence in a God who loves you so very much? If you have yet to ask Jesus into your heart, do so right now. And visit helltruth.com to read about what really happens regarding hell in our free article analyzing that famous Edwards sermon. It will surprise and, yes, encourage you!

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